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Susanna and the Elders by Artemisia Gentileschi.

Susanna or Shoshana (Hebrew: שׁוֹשַׁנָּה, Modern Šošana Tiberian Šôšannâ: "lily") is one of the additions to Daniel, considered apocryphal by Protestants, but included in the Book of Daniel (as chapter 13) by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. It is listed in Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England as unscriptural.[1] It is not included in the Jewish Tanakh, and is not mentioned in early Jewish literature.[2]

As the story goes, a fair Hebrew wife is falsely accused by lecherous voyeurs. As she bathes in her garden, having sent her attendants away, two lusty elders secretly observe the lovely Susanna. When she makes her way back to her house, they accost her, threatening to claim that she was meeting a young man in the garden unless she agrees to have sex with them.

She refuses to be blackmailed, and is arrested and about to be put to death for promiscuity when a young man named Daniel interrupts the proceedings. After being separated, the two men are questioned about details (cross-examination) of what they saw, but disagree about the tree under which Susanna supposedly met her lover. In the Greek text, the names of the trees cited by the elders form puns with the sentence given by Daniel. The first says they were under a mastic (υπο σχινον, hupo schinon), and Daniel says that an angel stands ready to cut (σχισει, schisei) him in two. The second says they were under an evergreen oak tree (υπο πρινον, hupo prinon), and Daniel says that an angel stands ready to saw (πρισαι, prisai) him in two. The great difference in size between a mastic and an oak makes the elders' lie plain to all the observers. The false accusers are put to death, and virtue triumphs.

Susanna and the Old Men by Guercino.

The Greek puns in the texts have been cited by some as proof that the text never existed in Hebrew or Aramaic, but other researchers have suggested pairs of words for trees and cutting that sound similar enough to suppose that they could have been used in an original. The Anchor Bible uses "yew" and "hew" and "clove" and "cleave" to get this effect in English. Others suggest that the puns were added by the Greek translator and say nothing about the original form of the text.

Susanna and the Elders by Alessandro Allori.
Susanna and the Elders, by Albrecht Altdorfer

The Greek text survives in two versions. The Septuagint's text appears only in the Codex Chisianus. The version of Theodotion, is the one that appears in Roman Catholic bibles. It was regarded as a part of the Daniel literature and was placed at the beginning of the Book of Daniel in manuscripts of the Old Testament. Jerome placed it at the end of Daniel, with a notice that it is not found in the Hebrew Bible.

Sextus Julius Africanus did not regard the story as canonical. Jerome (347-420), while translating the Vulgate, treated this section as a non-canonical fable.[3] In his introduction, he indicated that Susannah was an apocryphal addition because it was not written in Hebrew, as was the original book of Daniel, but was written in Greek. Origen observes (in Epistola ad Africanum) that it was "hidden" (compare "apocrypha") by the Jews in some fashion. There are no early Jewish references to the book.

Susanna in art

The story was frequently painted from about 1500, not least because of the possibilities it offered for a prominent nude female. It is the subject of paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, Tintoretto, Rembrandt and Tiepolo. Some treatments emphasize the drama, others concentrate on the nude; a 19th century version by Francesco Hayez (National Gallery, London) has no elders visible at all.[4]

Susanna (and not Peter Quince) is the subject of the poem Peter Quince at the Clavier by Wallace Stevens, which has been set to music by the American composer Dominic Argento and by the Canadian Gerald Berg.

In 1749, George Frideric Handel wrote an English-language oratorio Susanna. The American opera Susannah by Carlisle Floyd, which takes place in the American South of the 20th century, is also inspired by this story, but with a less than happy ending, and with the elders replaced by a hypocritical traveling preacher who in fact seduces Susannah.

The Belgian writer Marnix Gijsen borrows elements of the story in his first novel Joachim van Babylon, 1947.

American artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889 - 1975) painted a modern Susanna (1938), now at the de Young Museum, part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He consciously included pubic hair, unlike the statue-like images of classical art. The fable was set during the Great Depression, and Benton included himself as one of the voyeurs.

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